Our four little madpeople crowded in a wild heap on the sofa tonight watching "Return of the Jedi" under Nanny's watchful eye. This idyllically peaceful home scenario also included Grandad, who turned up later to support with the littles and help with laundry, and James, who drank an ungodly amount of espresso so he could stay up all night to finish his university assignments.
Dan and I left them all to their own devices and ran away to Manchester, where we caught up with the lovely Meg before attending an Iron & Wine gig we've had tickets for since February, at Manchester Opera House.
I've never been to Manchester before aside from numerous rushed panicky early morning airport runs when we think we're going to run into awful traffic and miss the flight, or those dead-tired return journeys when the trip is already a distant memory.
I loved it. Restored Industrial Age and Victorian architecture dominates this city that was once the industrial hub of England. It might still be; I have no clue about such things. I only know that the feel of the place is similar to Edinburgh. It has that similar vibe of old and new jumbled up together, like scrambled eggs when you add cheese: the tangy, mature flavour is an exciting addition that you'd miss irrevocably if it was just plain old eggs.
The opera house is one of those old-fashioned grand designs, with a warren of passages inside leading to mysterious doors that open into the stalls, where we were seated. We consulted our tickets as we walked down the rows, until we reached the front. Yep, the front. Dan had no idea when he booked the tickets that we had front row seats. Pretty much right in the middle, too.
It took us a while to get over the surprise, but when we did there was so much awesomeness going on that we knew we would have been in love with the evening no matter where our seats had been.
I can't remember the name of the opening singer. She had an amazingly powerful voice but, possibly due to nervousness, had little control over it and her words were frequently unintelligible because of her tendency to put her mouth to close to the microphone. Never mind. She had a beautiful smile, and we clapped kindly and enthusiastically for her because it was only her second gig.
Never mind, because we knew we were in for a treat.
Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, is one of those unassuming people who just walks onto a stage and owns it. He took control, he and The Legendary Beard, which practically has a separate identity of its own. He looks exactly like I imagined the real Pa to look in the Little House books, totally unlike the curly-haired, grinning Michael Landon who played him in the 1970s TV series. See, I'm right.
I can't really explain exactly how great it was. There were lots of other good musicians and backing vocalists. Together, they were a cohesive musical unit with perfect technique and a high standard. It's always satisfying to know that you're getting your money's worth with a quality performance.
However, the true enjoyment of experiencing Iron & Wine live lies in the genius poetry of the songs. Sam Beam is a modern-day William Wordsworth. Poetry pours out of his mouth, sung to a soothing musical score.
I'm sure I could discuss this extensively with my musician husband Dan [who nearly had a seizure during the onstage set-up watching a careless roadie manhandle one of Sam Beam's Taylor guitars] and give a more technical review of the musicality of the evening, but I'm going to just keep it to "magnificent" and leave it at that.
[You might notice the omission of my tradition of two music videos at the end of the review. I haven't added them because all photography and videography was banned this evening during the gig at Manchester Opera House. I thought it would be a bit rude to just throw a two-year-old YouTube video onto this blog post!]